Don't start today's tasks until you have read through all your chapters and annotated everything on character, setting, and scene, and have mapped your story to a story arc. If you've done all the work of reading and painstaking note-taking, now you are ready to start the even harder task of editing.
Unless you are one of those truly gifted authors, you probably have a long list of TO-DOs spread throughout your worksheets. You can tackle these items in any number of ways, but I recommend you start with fixing the biggest plot holes first. Your biggest plot holes may have to do with character development or they might be related to the timeline. Only you can figure that out, but if you such a big overwhelming list of things that need to be fixed that you are frozen with the fear of doing anything, let me give a few guidelines.
1. Make a back up your novel before you change anything. This means, make a duplicate record of your story and set it aside. Consider naming it by today's date OR better yet, with an addition to the title of the document like this:
Original file name: Tomorrow Girl
New copy file name: Tomorrow Girl - Big Picture Edits - 2019-05-09
2. Highlight the biggest plot holes that you can remember off the top of your head. Whether you are using a paper copy or an electronic version of your spreadsheet, grab a highlighter and choose a color. Use that highlighter on the top five issues regardless of which worksheet they are on.
Big plot holes will be those gigantic inconsistencies either in how events occur on the story's timeline or in the way a character acts. They are items that break the story and may require you to be really creative in the way that you fix them. In some cases, they may require that you do a massive edit across multiple chapters or even rewrite a big chunk of your story. Fix the timeline items first if you have them, then move on to the character inconsistencies.
3. Pick one of the five biggest plot holes and tackle it. Before you actually start running a red line through all the text, grab another sheet of paper and write down five ways you could fix that one plot hole. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of the plot hole, try breaking it into smaller chunks. Finish these sentences.
This part of the story isn't working because _____. If _____ happens, then _____ can't happen later in the story.
This will help you pinpoint the first thing that needs to be corrected, because really, it could be a whole series of events that are coalescing to cause the plot hole. Try working backward if you need to.
In order for the ____ scene to work, ____ must happen first. And in order for that to happen, ____ must occur.
If you have a close friend or fellow writer in your community (whether in your city, via the phone, or online), consider talking through the issue and its possible solutions with them. Sometimes talking aloud will bring things to light that you haven't even considered yet and you may start to find that one solution from your list is better over another, even if it isn't the easiest one.
4. Go back to your highlighted item and cross it off the list. I like to use an alternating color of highlighter and draw my lines right through the first color. One done! Doesn't that feel good?!
5. Make another backup. If your first plot hole required extensive edits to multiple chapters, this might be a good time to create another version or backup of your book. I make backups every time I feel like I've done anything major to my story. For you, this may mean after this first set of edits. For someone else, it may mean after all of the Day 2 - 6 edits. Whatever you decide, think of it in terms of, what if I have a change of heart after sleeping on it? How easy will it be to revert back and consider an alternate plan of action?
6. Once you've fixed the biggest plot hole, get busy on the next biggest one. Continue using whatever strategies helped carry you through on fixing the first one. By the time you get to #5... Well, I'm not going to lie. The fifth one can be as tough as the first one, but because you have tried some different strategies for fixing the other four, coming to a solution might feel simpler.
7. Once you have the first five items fixed, highlight the next five and work on them one at a time as you did the others. Keep whittling away until the last things you have to fix are items like "the walls were painted blue in chapter 3 but they're green in chapter 7."
8. Celebrate! When you finish this big round of edits and have crossed off all the To-Do items on all of your worksheets, be sure to do something to reward yourself. Buy yourself a piece of your favorite pie or a new book from an indie author that you've been following. Have a glass of wine (even if it's the middle of the week!). Whatever is your equivalent of a pat on the back, go for it. Good job! You deserve it!
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